Spaniard accused of killing British girl faces US trial

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The Independent US

A Spanish waiter accused of murdering the British schoolgirl Caroline Dickinson is expected to go on trial in the United States for burglary and lewd behaviour after rejecting a plea bargain yesterday.

Francisco Arce Montes, 51, who has been ordered to be extradited to France to face charges that he raped and murdered the schoolgirl, is due to appear in court in Miami, Florida, in June next year.

Mr Montes refused the offer to plead guilty to the accusation that he broke into a woman's house on Miami Beach and committed a sex offence while she slept. He now faces a maximum jail term of 45 years.

After his arrest, an immigration officer in Detroit saw his name in an immigration department bulletin and remembered reading about him while on holiday in Britain as the suspected killer of Caroline.

DNA tests showed Mr Montes was a "perfect match" for DNA found at the scene of the crime in Pleine Fougeres, Brittany, in July 1996.

Mr Montes had been told by a Florida judge, David Young, that a guilty plea would have been "in his best interests". The defence lawyer, Ronald Manto, said an offer had been made last week for Mr Montes to be given credit for the time he had already served in jail if he pleaded guilty.

Judge Young said the cases Mr Montes faced in the US were not "his biggest problem". He added: "It might be better to get out of Miami and deal with the issues you have in France, Germany and in Spain."

Mr Montes is due to be moved from a secure cell, where he was kept for his own protection, to live among the other prisoners.

Mr Manto said outside court: "We had discussed it and [the judge] had not made a firm decision and on reflection he had decided to fight the case." The decision was made despite a plea from Judge Young, who said: "Your cases in this country are not your biggest problem. If you don't take this plea you are going to be part of the general population [of ordinary prisoners] because I won't keep you in a safety cell."

Judge Young went on to tell Mr Montes that if he thought Dade County jail in Miami was "tough" it would be nothing to what he could expect in a state prison. "You are facing 45 years ... You won't survive it," he said.

But Mr Montes, who remained impassive during the hearing, turned down the offer.

Caroline, aged 13, from Launceston in Cornwall, was raped and suffocated as she and four other girls slept in a room at a youth hostel on 18 July, 1996.

In the months after her death, an exhaustive search was launched in an effort to find the killer. Five of her classmates were eliminated from investigations after giving DNA samples. French police then arrested a serial rapist who confessed to the killing but it was later discovered that the man was innocent.

Ronald Frankel, the honorary consul for Brittany, described the moment when the death was discovered. "One of the girls touched Caroline in her bed and she was cold. There was also some discolouration," he said. The girl called a teacher who raised the alarm. A doctor and ambulance crew arrived but they were unable to resuscitate Caroline.

An examining magistrate said a post-mortem examination showed that Caroline, who was in pyjamas, had been raped and suffocated.

Alan Wroath, her headteacher at Launceston College in Cornwall, said she had been a lovely girl. "She worked hard, had lots of friends and always a ready smile. She was a credit to the college," he said.

Mr Montes was arrested for the murder in April. He was named as the chief suspect by Francis Debons, the French judge leading the investigation into Caroline's murder.